Wednesday, July 31, 2013

process story

Lately, i've been going through old poems and revising them. I've done this many times before: in high school, i revised poems from middle school; in college, i revised poems from high school; in grad school, i revised poems from college. Now that i'm more or less post-grad school, i'm revising everything.

Usually, this process is largely one of deletion. I'll pull out a line or phrase from a poem that i like and throw the rest away as irredeemable trash. I'll scratch out the main themes of a poem, rearrange the stanzas, and throw out half of it. I'll throw away whole notebooks full of boring and embarrassing scrawls. But as the years go by, i've gotten better. I've trimmed away a lot of the bad stuff and built on a lot of the good. These days, the folder on my flash drive is about 80% potential, with only 20% fluff.

This makes the revision that much harder. When you have a whole sonnet that is absolutely perfect except for one weak line, and you have to fix it without disturbing the meter, and you can't just delete it because then you'd be a line short, it can take weeks and months and even years of work before the poem is solid. Sometimes you put it away for six months or so, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes you delete the bad line anyway and decide that the poem makes a stronger statement as a partial sonnet. Sometimes you start dreaming in iambic pentameter and wake up sobbing, declaring that you will only write in free verse from now on.

I'm at the point now where i actually have two poetry folders, one marked "in progress" and one marked "ready". When i want to send in some submissions, i pull from the "ready" folder. In between submission periods, i work on moving things from "in progress" to "ready". Sometimes i find things i'd forgotten about. Sometimes i go looking for something that i can't find, completely forgetting that i renamed it on the last round of revisions. And sometimes, even now, i delete and delete and delete.

It feels strange to be so business-like about editing my work. I mean, my primary goal is simply to make each poem as good as it possibly can be, but i am aware that the better my poetry is, the better chance it has of getting published. And getting published would be pretty sweet. Despite my strong identification with Emily Dickinson, it would be nice to have some recognition while i'm alive, however slight and passing.

It just somehow feels like it should be against the rules or something, you know? It's like i'm grading my own paper. I'm sorting through my poems and reading them and deciding which ones are good enough to edit and which are not, and then i'm editing them and deciding which ones are good enough to publish. I've never had anything published in my life! It's not okay for me to do this! This is supposed to be someone else's job!

I mean, technically, just because i think something is good to go doesn't mean anyone else will ever agree. I've sent things out before that i thought were pretty good, that other people thought were pretty good, that published, award-winning poets told me should be sent out, and had them firmly rejected. So i don't have the deciding vote or anything, but i feel a little bit like the Chief of Staff, deciding what goes on the President's desk and what gets handled by an underling. And i'm like, I just registered to vote yesterday and I can't remember the difference between Congress and the House of Representatives. I really feel like there should be another layer of authority between me and the President. But apparently i'm a grown-up now, and i have to decide these things for myself. So if you see anything published under my name, thank Obama, i guess.

I think i lost track of my metaphor a little bit at the end there.

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